By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 08, 2021 at 10:03 AM Photography: Will Hughes

Back in early summer, when Iron & Wine (aka Sam Beam) announced a short tour of small venues that included a gig at the Back Room at Colectivo on Prospect, the idea of seeing him in such an intimate space was immediately alluring.

HughesX

I wasn’t the only one feeling that, I guess, as it was also pretty much immediately sold out.

On Sunday night, after months of anticipation, Iron & Wine’s Back to Basics 2021 tour reached Milwaukee on an unusually balmy evening and the warmth outside was reflected inside, too, with a quiet, informal, chatty show that felt almost like a house concert.

CrowdX

“As the touring world began to switch its lights on, Beam was thinking of ways to head back out on the road,” read the tour announcement all those months ago. ”He factored in as well the expectation of what fans might want to see and hear after so much turmoil and it became clear that a simple return to roots was the answer. This fall, Beam will load up a van with a handful of acoustic guitars, dust off his trusty songbook and offer up some well needed comfort food in the way of the Iron & Wine catalog each night.

“These shows will take place in some of the smallest and most intimate venues Beam has played in over 15 years. And while loads of bands are serving the big markets, Iron & Wine will be taking to the back roads of the Midwest and Northeast to bring its gospel to the heartland.”

StageX

In fact, the Back Room show is the smallest venue Beam has ever played in Milwaukee, where he’s always performed at the Pabst – with one exception, in 2011, when Iron & Wine was at Turner Hall Ballroom. Thus, the show gave us the up-closest look we’ve ever gotten of this talented songwriter.

Beam played songs from across his long career: “Upward Over the Mountain” from his 2002 debut LP, “The Creek Drank the Cradle,” and “Jesus the Mexican Boy,” from its follow-up EP, “The Sea and the Rhythm.”

Iron and WineX

He performed “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” from 2007’s “The Shepherd’s Dog,” and “Bitter Truth” from 2017’s “Beast Epic.” From 2018’s “Weed Garden” EP we heard two gems: “Waves of Galveston” and “Talkin to Fog.”

Beam he even dug up his first Sub Pop 7-inch A side, “Call Your Boys.”

One of the best of the night was a version of “Lover’s Revolution” that traded the jazziness of its recorded version – from 2013’s “Ghost on Ghost” – for a more sinister Nick Cave-like vibe.

Contrary to what folks might expect based on his songs, Beam has always been a personable and even humorous between-song banterer, and self-aware enough to comment at least twice at Sunday’s show on the depressing subject matter of some of his tunes, including “Bitter Truth.”

IronX

“They just keep coming,” he said with a laugh.

His banter has rarely been wittier and more conversational than it was in the Back Room, where before even playing a note, he ruminated on the route to this gig through a pandemic.

“I just played concerts two nights in a row,” Beam said, referring to the tour opener Friday night in Appleton and an Iowa gig Saturday. “So this is my third concert in two years. How many concerts have you been to in the last two years?”

He warned at the outset that he may be a little rusty.

 “I don’t practice at home like I should,” Beam said, adding that he usually prefers to look forward. “There are always new songs to work on.”

And so it was. There were some forgotten lyrics, some flubbed chords, some brief pauses to get back on track, always with a self-effacing chuckle from Beam.

Sam BeamX

 

It was charming, frankly, and fun. The previous times I’ve seen Iron & Wine, in a band setting, everything was perfect. Every note, every word in its place. Stunning, in fact.

To witness Beam like this was not only humanizing but a gentle, guileless reminder of what we’ve all gone through these past 18 months and the fact that no one has escaped entirely unscathed.

Squirrel Flower embodied the evening’s warmth, too, by performing a mellow opening set of perhaps a half dozen songs that conjured the naif vocals and gentle chording of early Sharon Van Etten records with the moody vibe of Badalamenti music for David Lynch films.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.